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Factions - Part II by Travis Anderson

The Spy, The Rebel, The Doppelganger, The Traitor, The Soldier, The Exile, The Tinkerer,
The Mercenary, The Stray, and one ship shared by all. The tale has merely begun...

Chapter 7

Togray, Tristís XO stared in disbelief at the scene before him. Moments before, the fleeing runabout had sailed over the edge of the waterfall. Now it was being lifted back over by a tractor beam affixed to its aft section. Togray had ordered his own shuttle to hover near the edge, ostensibly to cover the scoutship in case of surprise attack, but really to distance himself and his crew from what he perceived as imminent failure.

Now the runabout had returned to sight, just of their bow. Hanging out of the shipís primary hatch was Brin Macen. Togray stared in stunned silence. His captainís derisive comments regarding the El-Aurian had led him to believe the former intelligence analyst would be incapable of such a feat.

The Liberty carried the runabout across Tograyís bow. He ordered his shuttle to drift back, but maintained his bearing. He was captivated by what he was seeing. He could see that Macen had worn an older Starfleet utility belt. In fact, the clothes he wore resembled the style of uniform issued by Starfleet in the 2260ís. It was like seeing something out of a holodrama.

The Liberty began to lower the runabout, nose first, towards the ground. Macen jumped away from the descending ship. He hit the ground hard and rolled to absorb some of the impact. The runabout twisted as it came into contact with the ground and began to fall.

The Liberty gently finished the runaboutís descent. After twisting, sheíd come up inverted and landed upside down. When she was completely prone, the scout released the tractor beam. The runabout rocked as the weight became distributed throughout the frame as it settled. The shipís octagonal design actually granted it a fair amount of stability.

Togray ordered his shuttle to land as the runabout settled. The shuttle had barely made contact with the ground when his men opened the hatch and scampered out to meet Macen. Transporter halos transformed into Chakotay, Seska, Yerol, and two other members of the Liberty crew as well.

The four Andorians split apart and stood in mute silence as Macen strode between them. His expression was hard and set. His eyes blazed with an internal fiery cataclysm. Togray moved forward to speak to him.

"Congratulations Captain." He spoke with the sibilant softness of his race, "This is truly an event to be sung about."

Togray found himself the focus of Macenís ire, "This wouldnít have been necessary if you hadnít attempted to garner some sense of personal honour and pressed the attack rather than allowing Captain Chakotay the opportunity to complete his ambush as planned." Macenís voice was a barely heard growl, "Save your accolades. They arenít wanted." Macen turned away and approached Chakotay.

Chakotay gave him an appreciative grin, "Remind me never to play against you in a game of Vector."

"Can your people extract the data from the runaboutís computers?" Macen asked, still gathering his rage under control.

Chakotay looked towards Seska, "I have faith in my peopleís abilities."

Macen detected a hidden, secondary meaning in his statement, but did not pursue it. Seska nodded confidently, motioning for Yerol and a second Maquis to proceed to the runabout. She gave Chakotay a stunning smile as she met her captainís eyes. The unabashed yearning and desire to please she displayed surprised Macen.

"This shouldnít take long." She said, her voice huskier than her norm. It was obvious she was hoping for a private conference with Chakotay after her task was done.

"Good." Chakotay replied with complete professionalism, "Let me know when you and your team of competed their task.:

Seska held his gaze for a moment longer. Her disappointment was plain, but she shoved it aside, "As soon as weíre done."

She followed the others in silence. Meanwhile, the Andorians loitered about the craft. They were unsure of their role. None of the Liberty crew seemed inclined to invite them into the runabout, so they stood around in sullen silence and waited for instructions.

Ro and Tulley watched their displays closely as the approached the mothball fleet. The primary role of their portion if the squadron was to search out potential additions to the Maquis fleet. Danan was preoccupied with utilising the ingenious sensor net Section 31 had installed to monitor intrasystem activity. TíKir kept busy hacking into the sensor nets computers, modifying their records of the Maquis presence.

"No, Iím not hogging the board." TíKir told Danan defensively. This took everyone by surprise, since no one had spoken.

Danan look completely flustered, "I never said anything."

"Doesnít matter." TíKir replied flippantly, "I heard you."

"How could you hear me if I never said anything?" Danan asked.

"You said it without saying it." TíKir answered cryptically.

"Has anyone ever told you that youíre the strangest Vulcan theyíve ever met?"

TíKir gave her an enigmatic smile. Danan felt her blood chill. Sheíd smiles like that from Macen, from Ro, from Tulley, from just about everyone but a Vulcan. It scared her at an instinctual level.

"Yes." TíKir replied happily, "And thatís the nicest compliment Iíve ever received."

Dananís eyes were wide as she returned her attention to the sensor readings. Danan liked Ro, Trusted her, and even considered her a friend. TíKir, on the other hand, was the biggest wildcard sheíd ever met. She didnít like wildcards. They were too chaotic for her blood.

Okay, she corrected herself, Maybe I do have a soft spot for rogues and renegades.

She loved Brin, and she considered him impulsive. She supposed the difference was trust. She trusted Brin to get out of any situation heíd landed in. With her there to help, she was certain they could escape anything.

Another difference was motivation. Macen, Ro, Tulley and a lot of the Maquis were trying to rectify a terrible wrong. There was always a romantic allure to a cause, particularly an apparently hopeless one. Danan found herself swept up by its passions as much as anyone, her practicality be damned.

TíKirís motives were a mystery. TíKir herself was a mystery. Sheíd been born on a Vulcan colony in what became the DMZ. The colonists subscribed to an unorthodox interpretation of Surakís teachings and felt more comfortable off Vulcan.

The colony had paid a high price in the war. The Cardassians, traditionally xenophobic, had felt particularly threatened by the stoic Vulcans. The survivors of the campaign to eradicate the colony had uniformly joined the Maquis. TíKir was one of them.

No one knew of she had any family since she never discussed her past. All they really knew about her was that she was a sorceress when dealing with operational systems and that she was...odd. She was prone to behavioural quirks that seemed even stranger due to her racial origin. She had originally appeared to be a typical, if somewhat untrained in the logical disciplines, Vulcan of her age. As the war progressed, and her involvement with the Maquis, she became more and more unpredictable.

Danan found it ironic that she was far more driven by the dictates of logic than TíKir. She also accepted the fact she was driven by far more than that. As a joined Trill, she was essentially a fusion of two distinct personalities. It been Dananís urges that had originally led Lisea to talk to Brin when heíd appeared in the Astrometrics lab that day.

Danan had originally met Macen when Thora had carried the symbiont. Sheíd been a sociologist that often consulted with Starfleet Intelligence. Thora had found Brin intriguing. Apparently, Danan had found him more than that.

Lisea, like Thora before her, had a choice to make in the matter. Thora had not desired a relationship with Macen. Lisea was not adverse to the idea, but waited until she knew him personally before deciding. When she had decided to pursue a relationship, it was because she had fallen in love with Brin. Danan merely shared those same feelings, adding to their intensity.

Lisea sometimes wondered if Brin knew the full implications of their relationship. The Symbiosis Commission discouraged interaction with previous hostís loved ones. She wondered whoís decision that had been. It didnít seem like anything a joined Trill would decide. When symbionts fell for someone, it was often for the rest of their rather lengthy existence, regardless of host bodies. In her opinion, as long as the host agreed, there shouldnít be a problem.

Lisea had spent most of her life studying, preparing for Starfleet. It had always been her dream to better the galaxy, to make an impact, to leave her mark in history. Sheíd always assumed that she would do so through some breakthrough research or discovery. It had never occurred to her that she might do it by being the first joined Trill to be labelled a "terrorist".

"Anything on sensors?" Ro asked.

"Not yet." Danan replied, "I donít know if thatís a good thing or a bad thing."

"Whatever gives us a better chance of getting away is a good thing." Ro replied sourly.

"And which option would that be?" Danan asked dryly.

"Damned if I know." Ro muttered.

Danan returned to her sensors with a smile.

"Do we have the codes?" Chakotay asked as Seska and her team withdrew from the runabout.

Seska gave him a brilliant smile and patted the data terminal she carried, "Right here."

Chakotay broke into a relieved grin. Heíd been pacing back and forth for the better part of an hour as she sought to retrieve the command function codes from the runaboutís computer. He knew Roís Ops officer was supposed to be a cyber-witch, but he didnít want to transmit any more subspace signals that could be used as evidence later.

He looked over to where Macen was leaned up against one of the Libertyís landing struts. He motioned for him join. Macen moved away from the strut stiffly. He had a slight limp in his left leg as he walked.

"Are you alright?" Chakotay inquired.

Macen shrugged, "I didnít land as well as Iíd hoped."

"Do you need medical attention?"

Macen shook his head, "Itíll pass on its own. Do we have it?"

"Yes."

"Then what are we waiting for?" Macen asked with impatient excitement.

"For you to hobble onto the ship." Chakotay answered with a chuckle.

"We have company coming." TíKir announced.

Ro and Tulley both turned to face her, she smiled thinly, "Itís the Liberty and the Gunslinger."

Seeing the glares she was receiving, her expression became defensive, "I never said they were hostile." She jerked her thumb up at Danan, "Thatís her arena."

Dananís mouth puckered and her expression turned dour, "My screens are empty."

Ro rolled her eyes at the animosity between the two women, "How soon until they join us?"

"Two minutes." TíKir answered, her tone cool and collected.

Macen beamed aboard the Wanderer as soon as they came within transporter range. TíKir quickly accessed the data contained within terminal he carried. It carried far more than the command function codes of each vessel. It possessed a history of each ship and a list of modifications made to certain ships.

Using the crew manifests theyíd devised before embarking on this mission, Macen and Danan began assigning crews to ships. There were three scoutships identical to Chakotayís Liberty that received new crews. An Oberth-class ship was re-registered as belonging to the same contract expeditionary company they were using as cover for this mission. The science ship would be an invaluable sensor platform. A high speed Vulcan courier was also assigned a four-person crew. A runabout was also selected and taken.

Macenís eye fell on a nearly hidden treasure. A Blackbird-class scout had been deposited here mere weeks before the Maquis arrival. These tough little ships had been Starfleetís response to the Klingon Bird of Prey. They were a marvel of early 24th century starship design.

A Blackbird followed the general lines of larger starships from the same period. The saucer section was seamlessly flowed into the underside drive section. The drive section, in turn, tapered upwards towards the aft. Their combined "tail" extended behind the main body of the ship and from it the warp nacelles extend up above the main body of the ship.

Truly a miniature starship, the Blackbird-class scouts came in at an overall length of 104 metres with a width of 80 metres and a height of 20 metres. She possessed five phaser banks and three torpedo tubes. The first two being located in an indentation in the forward saucer section. The third was located in very rear of the ship.

The ship was designed for speed as well as strength. She had a maximum speed of Warp 8.3, sustainable for 12 hours. The multiple manoeuvring thrusters incorporated into the design made her highly agile. Her primary weakness was that she was ungainly during atmposheric operations, essentially becoming a flying brick.

The shipís design did not leave her with much room. Her crew complement was limited to 22 people. The cramped quarters, combined with the atmospheric limitations, had been the most decisive factor in the decision to limit production to 14 hulls. Three had been lost on the Cardassian frontier. The rest were being decommissioned and delivered to private hands.

The ship in question had begun life as the NCC-14028 U.S.S. Charon. Observing Macenís smile as he poured over her specs, there was little wonder which ship he would choose as his own. It would need a new identity. One had already been selected. The Charon was quickly reregistered as the NDR-10558 S.S. Odyssey.

The crew Macen and Danan had selected for their ship beamed over to the Odyssey moments after her new captain and first officer had arrived. Tulley and TíKir came aboard as well. Ro had decided that she wanted a seasoned Flight Control/Operations officer, as well as a groomed Weapons officer aboard in case of trouble. Macen couldnít fault her for that.

Seska and Terikof had gone aboard the Oberth. Astraea had sent personnel to other ships as well. Only Trist had opted to retain his crew. The Gunslinger had even moved to a position away from the other Maquis.

Desrin Basx would be the acting Chief Engineer aboard the Odyssey. He assembled his people and proceeded to the engine room. Macen, Danan, TíKir, and Tulley went straight to the bridge. Upon arrival, they were pleasantly surprised. The bridge was smaller than a typical Starfleet design, but provided enough room to avoid claustrophobia.

The rear of the bridge possessed three doors. The outer two were turbolift access doors. The centre door led to the briefing room. The bridge itself only had four stations, all facing the viewer.

The bridge was laid out in a staggered pyramid. The station closest to the viewer was the Flight Control/Operations station. The Command Station sat behind the helm. It possessed a Master Systems console that could duplicate or replace any other bridge console as well as providing continuos sensor read-outs.

Set between, and to either side of the Helm/Ops and Command stations, were Science and Tactical. Science was to the left of the command console, Tactical to the right. Command set one metre back from them, granting the Captain a peripheral view of them at all times.

The Odyssey employed 1st generation isolinear technology. Previous starships had operated on duotronic components. The Blackbird-class had been born during the initial transition to isolinear systems. The Odyssey had an LCARS system, but it was unlike anything the others had ever seen before.

Macen chuckled to himself. This ship was built in the same era in which heíd joined Starfleet. The controls and displays were unlike anything seen today, except aboard the surviving Excelsior and Miranda class ships. Even these were being phased out of any services other than cargo transport, sector defence, and ferrying officials about.

The Odyssey contained five decks. The first contained the bridge, the briefing room, and extra shield generators for the bridge. Deck 2 housed the port and starboard computer cores. The rest of the deck was divided between crewís quarters and the deuterium tank. Deck 3 held the forward torpedo tubes and ammunition. The most diversified deck, it also contained the science labs, a shuttle bay, more quarters, Sickbay, the upper half of the warp core, Recreation and Cargo Bays 1.

The shuttle bay held two Type 15 shuttle pods. They were small, unarmed craft with a passenger capacity of four people. Their top speed was Warp 1. Needless to say, they were unpopular modes of transportation.

Deck 4 was devoted to Engineering, with the exception of the rear torpedo launcher. Deck 5, half the length of Deck 4, held only the main deflector array, Cargo Bay 2, and the antideuterium tank. It was a trim design. The ships had been built as reconnaissance vehicles and border patrollers. They reflected that purpose and spared little space for creature comforts.

She wielded the armament and speed of vessels twice her size. Her sensor capabilities were second only to a dedicated science vessel or deep space explorer. Her small size and manoeuvrability made it an extremely difficult target. The ship was ideally suited for the Maquis.

And for her commander, Macen thought to himself.

Macen had been disturbed by recent trends in starship design. His experiences led him to believe that a bigger ship just made a larger target. The Galaxy-class that was Starfleetís pride and joy was just about the biggest target Macen had ever seen. Even the older Ambassador and New Orleans classes carried crews of over 1000 people.

Macen preferred smaller ships. His preference was sculpted by his years spent in Intelligence. A smaller ship was harder to find. A small, powerful ship was ideal. This ship was Macenís ideal transformed into reality.

Danan had always preferred smaller ships as well. Her reasons were far different. The smaller vessels of Starfleet rarely received high profile assignments, but they did receive the in-depth studies that were a researcherís joy. They also had fewer crewmates to have to deal with.

Macen turned away from his consoleís display, "Lisea, how long will it take you to assign quarters?"

She shrugged, "Iíd like to see them personally before I start handing them out."

"What about sensors?"

She smiled brightly, "Someoneís taken excellent care of this ship. I just finished my first diagnostic. It should only take me ten minutes or so to adjust them to my specs."

"Good." Macen replied in relief, "I think we should solve the crew matters before we finish minute details."

"Agreed."

Macen turned to Tulley, "What about weapons?"

"Iíd like to inspect the torpedo launchers." He answered, "But phasers came out clean."

"TíKir, what about Ops? How soon until weíre ready?"

"Weíre ready now." She replied, "We just need someone to change the external ID markers. All the computer records have been altered."

"Will anyone be able to detect the changes?"

"No." she answered. Her tone suggested that she found the question insulting.

"Are you willing to bet your life on that?" he challenged.

"Iím here arenít I?" she replied tartly.

"You are at that." He conceded, "Can you finish the diagnostics for the bridge systems?"

She sighed heavily, "Why not?"

Macenís expression was one of wry amusement, "Thank you. Lisea, Tulley, I think we should get some of this out of the way. Iím going to Engineering and getting someone outside to change the registration markers."

He nodded in TíKirís direction with a grin. She smiled in return. She watched as the three other Maquis stepped into the turbolift. TíKir watched them silently the whole time.

As the door to the turbolift closed, she turned back to her console with a satisfied smirk. "Heís certainly yummy. This could get interesting" She commented to the empty space around her.

 

Chapter 8

Trist stared at the image filling his viewer. It was a sight that took his breath away. The ship was old, but it still filled one with awe. It was a thing of myth and legend.

The shipís saucer section was mounted upon a sleek neck that connected with an elegant drive section. The nacelles were perfectly balanced, stretching out higher than the saucer. It was the first among giants, one of the first Federation starships. Although a refitted model retired sometime between 2280 and 2295, it was still an Enterprise-class variant of the Constitution-class starship, with all the power and respect that name deserved and commanded.

The ship was the NCC-1749 U.S.S. Fortitude. She had been the last of the refitted Constitution-class ships. Sheíd never enjoyed the fame of the Enterprise, Intrepid, or Excalibur, but sheíd established a respectable reputation. Tristís heart yearned for her as he gazed at her lustfully.

The Gunslinger had served him as faithfully as she could, but she was admittedly an ugly, unorthodox amalgamation of parts forced together. One of her strengths had been that no one expected her to possess the firepower she did. That firepower still paled in comparison to a Galor-class Cardassian cruiser. Trist dreaded the thought of pitching his ship against a Keldon-class heavy cruiser. It would be no contest.

This ship, this wonder, lying before him could trade blows with a Cardassian. True, the ship was old, older than the scout raiders the Maquis typically used. It was also a starship. Properly modified and upgraded, it could repulse anything the Cardassians could throw at it.

Trist turned to Togray, "Did you get the codes?"

Togray answered with a thin smile, "Of course."

"Did anyone detect your data slice?"

"No." Togray replied confidently, "They are unsuspecting."

"Excellent." Trist said with rare approval, "Have the crew gather their belongings. We are beaming over to the Fortitude."

"What shall we do with the Gunslinger?"

Trist shrugged, "Weíll simply scuttle her. Sheíll be of no further use to us."

"Yes, sir."

Desrin had a crew outside the ship changing her name. The engineer had happily informed Macen that the warp core was in pristine condition. The deuterium and anti-deuterium tanks had been fully stocked, as well as the dilithium reserves. This was a ship kept in a state of readiness.

Tulley had said the same about the torpedo racks. That was quite a coup for the Maquis. Phasers and disrupters were common among space going vehicles. Photon torpedoes were a controlled item and still banned from civilian use in the Federation. Although most of the Maquis ships were equipped with torpedo launchers, their supply of torpedoes was scarce.

Macen had dispatched a crewman to Roís ship to inform her of the discovery. The ebullient messenger had returned with news of that being the case with all of the ships they taking with the exception of the runabout and the courier. All of the scouts were fully stocked. The Oberth-class ship carried torpedoes, but in less quantity than the scoutships.

After assigning quarters to the crew Danan had divided her time between the Science labs and the Science station on the bridge. Sheíd taken her relief, a young Bajoran woman named Rett Kila, in tow. Rett had been born on a refugee colony that now lay within the DMZ. Nearly the entire populace of the colony had swarmed to the Maquis ranks.

Rett had been a studious young lady, well on her way to admission to any Federation school of her choice when the unofficial war between the Federation and the Cardassian Union ended with the ceding of her homeworld to her ancestral enemies. Danan had been searching for a suitable relief, and in Rett she had exceeded every expectation.

She had Rett down in the labs calibrating their sensor ties when Macen returned to the bridge. He was reading a padd and headed straight for the Briefing Room at the rear of the bridge. She watched Tulley and TíKir exchange a curious glance. Danan smiled inwardly.

Macenís sometimes abrupt manner caught people off-guard. She knew it was partly cultural, partly personality. El-Aurians generally stayed to themselves as a rule. Brin was also something of the absent-minded researcher. Once he became involved with a project, the rest of the time-space continuum disappeared,

She rose from her station and went to the Briefing room. It was a small affair. The table was larger at both ends than at its length. One end was the Captainís desk, the other the data unit for presentations. Two additional people could sit on either side of the tableís length. Once someone had inputted data in the computer console at the end of the table, they could control its display upon the wall unit with the controls found at every seat. The Captainís seat/desk contained two data terminals of its own in addition to being tied into the display system.

Macen sat behind the desk tapping in commands to the data terminal in the centre of the desk. She noticed that heíd changed out of the bloodied clothes heíd worn on the planet. He now wore a variant of the Starfleet utility uniform. The normally blue shoulders were forest green instead. He still wore the grey undershirt beneath it.

Danan had found several uniforms in stores. Sheíd liberated some pants, boots, grey uniform sweater, and a captainís away team jacket. Since she no longer had to worry about rank, sheíd decided the jacket was fair game. She found it ironic that even in the Maquis, she and Macen still dressed like Starfleet officers.

"You seem awfully distracted." She said softly.

Brin glanced up with a confused look on his face, then broke into an embarrassed grin, "Sorry. Iím just getting distracted by some of the records left behind in this ship."

"Oh, really?" she said dryly, "I hadnít noticed."

"Youíre a fine one to talk." He said accusingly, tugging at an imaginary jacket, "Bucking for promotion, or are you just having delusions of grandeur?"

"No one else was using it." She replied defensively, "What is that thing youíre wearing?"

"A new uniform." He explained.

"The uniform of what service?" she asked, puzzled.

"Weíve created a dummy exploration and survey company, I figured we needed a uniform to complete the facade."

"Donít lie to me." She admonished, "You just canít stand the thought of being out of a uniform."

He shrugged, "So? You seem to have the same problem."

"Yeah," she sighed ruefully, "I do."

He leaned back in his chair, "Actually, Iíve been thinking about distributing them among the crew."

"Are you thinking about only handing out uniforms?" she asked sceptically.

He gave her a wry grin, "No, not exactly. I was also thinking about formalising a command structure."

"On board a Maquis ship?" she exclaimed.

He spread his hands wide, "Itís a thought. It wouldnít be based on rank, more like position."

"So what would I be?" she asked in amusement.

"Science 1st and First Officer." He answered, then with a smirk asked, "Unless of course youíd like to be referred to as the First Mate."

She gave him a look of distaste, "I donít think so."

"Well," he teased, "it technically would be the truth."

She glared at him, "Even if it is true, donít go there."

He held up his hands in surrender, "Okay, itíll be First Officer."

"Itís better be." She warned, "What about the uniforms?"

"The green will be for the Science and Medical personnel."

"What about the rest?"

Macen reached down below his desk and brought up another uniform. This one had khaki coloured shoulders. Her eyebrows rose, as her expression grew apprehensive. He grinned mischievously.

"This will be the Operations and Engineering uniform."

"Oh, Tulley and TíKir are going to love you." She commented dryly, "And I canít wait until you try and sell this to the crew."

"You wonít have long to wait." Macen informed her, "Iíll be talking to Tulley and TíKir as soon as you leave and then Iíll be assembling the crew."

"Is that a not so subtle hint?"

"Sort of."

"Iíll go get them." She told him, "But first..." she punched him in the shoulder. With that done, she turned and started to head out of the room.

"Lees," Macen called after her, "you forgot your uniform."

He heard her sigh before the doors shut.

Trist stared at the bridge stretched out before him. He truly could imagine facing Klingons, Romulans, Tholians, Gorn, and Orions in this ship. He took in a deep breath of satisfaction. This was the ship heíd waited for his entire life.

He turned to Togray, "Have the charges been set on the Gunslinger?"

"Yes, sir." Togray answered in the soft tones of Andorian speech.

"Set the timers and inform the Engine Room that we are ready to get underway."

Danan stood beside Macen clad in her new uniform. She found the two piece design more comfortable than the typical Starfleet jumpsuit. She knew that Starfleet was going to change all of their uniforms to a similar design, but she enjoyed the thought of enjoying the benefits of the change before anyone at Starfleet. She was also enjoying the fact that the design incorporated deeper pockets that you could actually stick your hands into.

Sixteen other members of the crew were gathered in the galley with Macen and Danan. TíKir and Tulley were manning the bridge. The work crews that had been in environmental suits changing the shipís ID markers were also in attendance despite their exhaustion. The crew was excited, but also apprehensive. The sight of Macen and Danan in what was obviously a uniform didnít do much to alleviate their anxiety.

Macen motioned for them to quiet down. The collective rumblings ceased. Macen looked across the faces of those assembled before him. In truth, they were strangers. He and Danan had hope in a few such as Rett and Desrin, but even they were unknown quantities.

"Thank you for coming." Macen began, "I know that many of you are tired. Youíve been outside the ship working on a difficult task. I can never express my thanks, or that of the rest of the crew, for what youíve done."

Weary smiles drifted across the faces of those that had spent the better part of two hours in zero-g. Even with 24th century technology, that was an unenviable task. Space remained the single most hostile environment to carbon-based life known to exist. It took hardy souls to endure prolonged periods away from gravity fields.

"I think the time has come to share I few ideas with you." Macen announced, "As you know, we have changed this shipís ID marker. She is now the NDR-10558 S.S. Odyssey. Sheís registered as a research exploration vessel for a dummy corporation set up by the Maquis. In the records, itís a legitimate operation."

"This gives us an advantage in that we can operate on either side of the border." Macen shrugged, "At least for now. Both Starfleet and the Cardassians will be learning of our true nature and allegiance soon enough,"

There were murmurs of approval, "In the meantime, Iíd like to make a few proposals regarding the operation of this ship."

"Are you going to ask us to wear that uniform you got on?" a man asked.

"Yes, I am." Macen answered.

"We are arenít in Starfleet." A woman protested.

Macen gave her a rueful grin, "No, weíre not. But, a ship requires a certain amount of discipline."

"Not on the Freedom Fighter." A voice called out. Chuckles floated across the room. Macen caught Danan smirking.

"Even they have their own set of protocols and rules." Macen informed them, "Discipline is especially essential in a military organisation."

"Maybe you arenít listening." The original voice said scornfully, "We arenít in Starfleet."

"I never said you were." Macen said with a tinge of anger, "I thought you were in the Maquis."

Macenís verbal opponent coloured as people around him laughed at Macenís sardonic comment, "The uniform is simple, and reflects the cover weíre using for this ship. The green shouldered uniforms will be distributed to those crewmembers assigned to medical and technical specialities. The khaki will be for engineering and operational specialists."

"Why do you have the green?" a surly human asked, "Is green also the Command group?"

"No." Macen answered with conviction, "We arenít going to have a separate Command department or division. We arenít even going to employ a ranking system like Starfleetís."

"How will we know whose in charge?" a woman asked.

"We going to implement a rank system based upon duties, like a merchant ship." Macen explained, "Iím the Captain. Lisea Danan is the Executive Officer, and the Science 1st. Arich Tulley is the Acting Weapons 1st. TíKir is Helm 1st. Desrin Basx is Engineering 1st."

"Danan is the officer directly under me."

"You got that right." Macenís heckler murmured.

"Excuse me." Macen called out angrily, "Do we have a problem?"

"No, sir."

"Then keep your comments to yourself." Macen warned. No one doubted his willingness to pursue the matter more vigorously.

"As I was saying," Macen resumed, "Danan is the second highest ranking officer here. The Second and Third officers will command the bridge during the gamma and delta watches."

"Whoíre are the Second and Third officers?" Desrin asked.

"I donít know." Macen answered with a wry smile, "I donít feel comfortable assigning those positions to people I havenít seen on action. With any luck, the posts will be filled in a few weeks." He glanced towards Lisea, "I know the XO and I will appreciate assigning those positions so we wonít have to split coverage of those rotations."

Nods of agreement passed through the galley, "Danan has handed out assignments, so all of you know which watch youíre on and your assigned duties. Are there any further questions?"

A few of the Maquis exchanged curious glances with their fellows, but there were no questions, "Then I want to take this opportunity to thank you all for agreeing to be part of this crew. I know you joined up to win this war. I just want you to know thatís the first priority of this ship. We wonít stop or surrender until weíve liberated the colonies and founded an independent state.

Cheers echoed through the galley. Macen dismissed the crew after telling them to put their new uniforms on. They could pick up communicators and phasers from stores. Tulleyís chosen lieutenant, Nancy Hereford, would be going there in fifteen minutes to distribute equipment. She gave him a wry look as the rest of the crew filtered out of the room.

Macen tuned to face Danan. Her expression was carefully neutral. Macen gazed at her wonderingly but received no response. He finally threw both hands into the air.

"Well?"

She broke into s delighted smile, "I love to do that to you."

"Youíll think so later." He muttered darkly.

"Oh shush, you donít scare me." She admonished.

He rolled his eyes and sighed, "How do you think it went?"

"I think I had you nearly hyperventilating before you finally asked."

"How do you think the meeting went?" he growled.

"Oh, that." She said dismissively, bit with a twinkle in her eye, "They responded well. I think they bought into it."

"Most did." Macen said, remembering his heckler, "There were a few recalcitrant protesters."

Danan sighed, "Thatíll always be the case. The Maquis draws disenfranchised and rebellious personalities towards them."

"Must be why we joined." Macen commented with a grin.

Danan gave him stern look, "You only enjoy rabble rousing from within a system. Youíre a born dissident. Youíre only happy when youíre standing authority up on its ear. On the other hand, you insist upon there being a system since you despise anarchy."

"I think you know me too well." He said, giving her a sour face.

She gave him a solicitous smile, "Iíd better know you by now. Weíve been involved for almost six years."

"Donít think I havenít noticed that youíre avoiding discussing why you joined the Maquis." Macen told her primly.

She gave him a startled look, "I thought weíd discussed it before?"

"We did." He informed her, "But as long as weíre exploring the deeper psychological motives behind our actions, we might as well include yours."

Before Danan could answer, the comm chimed, "Bridge to Captain Macen."

Thank you, Lisea thought.

Damn, Brin thought as he activated the intercomís pickup.

"Go ahead, TíKir." Macen said into the wall unit, irritated at the interruption.

"I think youíd better come up to the bridge." She told him, "Youíll want to see this."

"What is it?" he asked, still irritated.

"Someoneís stealing a Constitution-class starship."

"What?" Macen exclaimed.

"Told you." TíKir said smugly.

"Whoís stealing it?"

"How should I know?" TíKir retorted sarcastically, "Get up here and ask them yourself."

"Weíll be there in a minute. Macen out." He switched the comm off, I think I may have to kill her.

 

Chapter 9

The turbolift doors opened with a distinctive swoosh. Macen hesitated for a moment wondering how he could eliminate the distinctive sound every Federation door seemed to make. It had annoyed him for the better part of seventy years. Someday someone would design a starship that didnít make that infernal noise.

Danan proceeded to the Science station and quickly took a look at the readings. Tulleyís Tactical sensors gave him the general details, bit were focused upon shields, weapons, and energy outputs. TíKirís sensors also registered the events, but in astronavigational terms. Dananís far more comprehensive and sensitive feeds gave her every detail that was being received.

"Captain," she began to report, "it appears as though..."

"Trist is stealing a starship." Macen finished for her, disgust in his voice.

All eyes turned to him. "If you already knew the answer, whyíd you ask me the damn question?" TíKir asked tersely.

Macen shrugged, "I didnít know when I asked. On the turbolift, I had time to consider it. Thereís only one Constitution-class ship out here. It just took a minute to remember whose ship was closest to it."

Tulley shook his head with a rueful grin. Danan gave him an enduring smile. She was far more used to his little eccentricities. TíKir continued to glare before being urged to focus on her duties by Macen clearing his throat.

"What about the Gunslinger?" Macen asked.

"Thereís a strange power fluctuation." Danan reported, "Wait a minute...thereís a detonation!"

"Shields up." Macen ordered calmly.

"Shields, aye." Tulley acknowledged.

"Those idiots." Macen muttered derisively, "Theyíve just destroyed all the work we put into deceiving the sensor grid." His eyes narrowed, "Where are they headed?"

"They are on an outbound vector from the system." Danan answered.

Macen activated the intercom to Engineering, "Mr. Desrin, are you engines ready?"

"Yes, sir." Desrin reported enthusiastically, "Just give the word, and we can be underway."

"Weíll need impulse engines and possibly warp drive." Macen replied.

"Itís all yours." Desrin assured him.

"TíKir, lay in an intercept course." Macen ordered.

"Youíve got it."

"The Gunslinger has been successfully destroyed." Togray reported.

"Excellent." Trist replied, "Set course for Maquis space."

"Aye, sir."

"Sir!" the Andorian woman manning the Science station called out, "One of the ships is moving towards us in an intercept course."

"Which ship?" Trist asked.

"She registers as the S.S. Odyssey."

"Visual."

The viewer wavered and then formed a clear image. It showed a smaller, sleeker starship approximately the size of an Oberth-class. That meant she was almost the same size as just the drive section for the Fortitude. Although newer, the scout was still less powerful than the cruiser.

"Raise shields and continue on our course." Trist commanded, "How long until warp speed?"

"Five minutes."

"Good." Trist said with satisfaction, "Engage warp drive as soon as it comes on-line."

"Theyíve raised shields." Danan reported.

"What about weapons?" Macen asked.

"No power to weapons showing." She answered with relief.

"No phaser locks either." Tulley corroborated.

"Try hailing them."

Danan made several attempts before turning to Macen. "They appear to be ignoring us." She commented dryly.

"You want me to power up the phasers?" Tulley asked quietly.

"Not yet." Macen replied, "Weíre still friends...for now."

Macen turned to Danan, "Hail Ro. Get her input."

"What about communications silence?"

He gave her a wry look, "Our coverís been blown. Whatís the point now?"

"Thatís what I figured." She said as she began keying in the comm sequence.

"They are still pursuing." Togray reported.

"Arm phasers." Trist replied coolly, "Give them a warning."

"Whatís he up to?" Ro asked angrily.

"What do you think?" Macen asked scornfully, "Heís a glory hound. He thinks heís got a shot at fame and fortune now."

"How many people does he have aboard?"

"Danan reports that he has fifty-two aboard."

"Whatís the normal complement?"

"Four hundred and fifty-six." Macen answered, "With a skeleton crew of fifty-two."

"He got lucky." Ro commented sarcastically.

"Heíll never be able to commit to a fight with those numbers." Macen informed her, "Thatís just enough personnel to man all the vital posts."

"Theyíre arming phasers!" Tulley interrupted, "Theyíre locking phasers."

"Evasive action." Macen replied calmly.

"The Odyssey is unharmed. However, they are resuming their pursuit." Togray reported.

"Have they powered weapons?"

"Theyíve armed their phasers, but they have not tried to establish a phaser lock." Togray reported, then more hesitantly, "Captain Ro is hailing us."

"Ignore her." Trist replied, "How long until warp speed?"

"One minute."

TíKir swung the ship into position behind the larger craft. If they were to catch her, they would end up between her nacelles. The bridge crew was unshaken and looked more determined than ever. Macen wondered how the rookies throughout he rest of the ship were doing. For most of them it was their first experience in a starship at Red Alert.

"Good idea." Macen appraised TíKirís manoeuvre, "These older starships only have one aft weapon."

"A single torpedo launcher." Tulley clarified.

"Letís see if he wants to talk now." Macen suggested.

"They are directly behind us, sir." Togray informed Trist.

"Warp drive is on-line." Engineering announced.

"Fire aft torpedo and go engage the warp drive, warp six."

"Oh, hell." Tulley muttered then called out, "Torpedo!"

"Evasive, left." Macen called out.

As the ship veered left, Danan announced, "Theyíve gone to warp."

"It missed!" TíKir announced gleefully, then with more composure, "Shall I lay in a pursuit course?"

"No." Macen said flatly, "We need to get the rest of the squadron out of here first."

The Midas had departed several hours ago when the last Maquis passenger had disembarked. Ro had wanted the experienced ships to maintain the sensor manipulation and to assist the newer crews until the entire squadron could depart in unison. It looked as though those plans needed revision.

"Weíll catch up with them later." Macen assured her, "And they wonít like it when we do."

"I guarantee they wonít." TíKir muttered under breath.

Ro and Chakotay beamed aboard the Odyssey. Both looked as angry as Macen felt. They joined Macen and Danan in the shipís briefing room. Ro paced back and forth with her fists on her hips.

"That son of an Andorian bitch." She swore viscously.

"Accurate, but hardly useful at the moment." Chakotay replied dryly.

Macen and Danan both stifled snickers. Ro herself broke into an appreciative grin, "Okay, I deserved that."

"What do you think we should do?" Chakotay asked.

"We need to go after him." Ro replied angrily.

"We need to contact the Committee." Chakotay countered, "After we get the squadron out of here."

"The entire squadron will engage in the pursuit."

"Most of them arenít ready. They need time to familiarise themselves with their ships."

"Theyíll have time while we track Trist down."

The conversation ended with both of them glaring at each other. Danan and Macen exchanged an amused glance. Dananís eyebrows rose expectantly. Macen sighed then spoke up.

"We need to do both."

Ro and Chakotay looked at him in surprise as he explained, "We could send the two fastest ships, the courier TíLera and the Odyssey. The rest of the squadron could depart in twelve hours. That should give the rest of the ships time to prepare and give them experienced escorts."

"I like it." Chakotay admitted.

"So do I." Ro agreed, "On one condition, I go with the TíLera."

"But that will leave your ship dangerously understaffed." Chakotay protested.

"Tulley and TíKir can return." Macen offered.

Ro shook her head, "Just Tulley. Heís the XO. TíKir is...better off here."

Danan snorted at that. Macen was left wondering what exactly had transpired while he was with Chakotay on the planet. He thought about asking, then thought better of it. I really donít want to know.

"All right." Macen agreed, "Weíll beam everybody to their respective ships then get underway."

The man that took Tulleyís place on the bridge was an Iotian named James Pavel Scott. After the Enterpriseís fateful visit to Iotia and the subsequent Federation relief effort, the Iotians applied the same fervent adulation to the ship and crew that they had previously bestowed upon the mobsters of early 20th century Earth. Having achieved Federation membership in 2357, Starfleet had been literally swamped with applicants from Iotia.

Many hopefuls had been accepted, to both Starfleetís delight and chagrin. The Iotians brought a nearly unrivalled enthusiasm and energy to Starfleet. They also brought a rebellious edge and a tendency for unorthodox solutions that was difficult to discipline. Those Iotians that failed in their attempts to enter Starfleet typically joined private survey enterprises or headed off to join new colonies.

Scott had been one of those hopefuls. Heíd arrived on Riva just before its hand over to the Cardassians. His familiarity, obsession really, with early Starfleet lore had made him a natural to join the Maquis. He had actually completed several missions with the Maquis and had originally been assigned to the runabout as the co-pilot. The opportunity to serve aboard a starship, even a small one, was a dream come true.

Scott had introduced an interesting change to Macenís proposed uniform. He made himself replica of the earliest Starfleet uniform in the shipís chosen colours. The turtleneck design had not been seen since the 2260s. It had quickly caught in with the crew.

TíKir quickly excused herself and reappeared with the incredibly short mini-dress version favoured briefly in the late 2260s. Macen winced upon seeing it. The rest of the female personnel aboard took either to a looser sweatered version of Scottís variant or stayed with Macenís original concept. Even Lisea had changed into one of the wider necked sweaters issued to female personnel. He surrendered at that point and let it all go, seeing the usefulness of multiple options. He also ordered TíKir to put on a different uniform.

They had left the system without incident. The ship appeared quite capable of enduring its rated run of twelve solid hours at over Warp 8. Macen kept the speed at Warp 7. He didnít want to risk an emergency with a "green" crew if he could avoid it.

They were two hours away from Maquis space when they detected other vessels. Up until now they had only encountered routine traffic. These ships were engaged in combat against each other. That made them stand out.

Macen leaned forward in his seat. His right arm rested on his console. His left hand rested on his thigh. He rubbed his chin with his right hand while he considered options. He knew there was only one he could live with.

"Prepare to alter course." Macen ordered, "Set your heading to intercept those ships."

"Are you sure?" TíKir asked.

"Are we going to have to have a seminar on how to comply with orders?" Macen asked scornfully.

"No, sir." TíKir replied crisply.

"Then set your course."

"Danan, what are you getting off long-range sensors?" Macen asked.

"Two ID tags, the U.S.S. Mekong and the O.P. Gnarled Tooth."

"The what?" he asked incredulously.

"Its an Orion ship." She explained with a laugh.

"Figures." He muttered, "And the other?"

"A Starfleet runabout."

"Another runabout?" Macen groaned, "Havenít we had enough of runabouts?"

"Apparently not." Danan teased.

He rolled his eyes, "Whatís the situation?"

"The runabout is under heavy attack." Scott reported excitedly.

Macen ignored the Weapon Officerís enthusiasm, "The Orionís status?"

"Their shields are weakened, but withstanding the runaboutís phasers."

"Take us in." Macen ordered, "Battle stations. Arm and lock phasers only. Do not, I repeat, do not arm torpedoes."

"Sir?" Scott asked with obvious disappointment.

"Photon torpedoes are contraband, Mr. Scott." Macen explained with barely disguised impatience, "Would you like to reveal our true allegiance to Starfleet?"

Scott looked justifiably embarrassed, "No, sir. Orders, sir?"

"Lock phasers onto the Orion ship and fire on my command." Macen said dryly.

"Aye, sir."

"Thank you." Macen replied wearily, "It doesnít have to be this hard. Really."

"Moving into position." TíKir announced.

"Any sign of the Orions breaking off?"

"No." Danan answered grimly.

"Scott, fire at will."

The Odyssey possessed five phaser emitters. Two of them opened up on the Orion raider. The raider was only slightly smaller than the scoutship, but was a collection of mismatched parts. The phasers easily penetrated the shields. The raider broke off after a single blast.

Scott let out a whoop of joy. Macen and Danan exchanged wry glances. TíKir faced forward towards the viewer, but her change of posture demonstrated her feelings for Scottís enthusiasm. Macen wondered how long Scott would withstand the overwhelming cynicism of his fellows.

"Howís the runabout?" Macen asked.

"Relatively undamaged." Danan reported.

"Hail them." Macen ordered.

Danan hesitated for a moment. Her eyes met Macenís and she shrugged, "Theyíre replying."

"On viewer."

The viewer changed from the tactical display to that of a Trill woman in a Starfleet Sciences uniform and Lieutenantís rank pins on her undertunicís collar. Beside her sat a swarthy man with an identical uniform and rank. He heard a gasp escape Dananís lips and was suddenly glad that the viewerís pick-up was on a narrow focus and only transmitted his image.

"Iím Captain Brin Macen of the Odyssey, are you all right?"

"Yes, thank you." The woman replied, "Iím Lt. Jazdia Dax, the Chief Science Officer assigned to DS9. This is Doctor Julian Bashir."

"How is your ship?" Macen asked evenly, playing his part, "Do you need any assistance."

Dax shook her head, "No. Our systems are fine. We took a beating, but we can easily make it back." She gave him a wry smile, "As long as no one is shooting at us, that is."

"I donít think theyíll be back." Macen observed.

"I donít either." Dax agreed, then broke into a friendly smile, "Thatís an impressive ship you have there."

Macen chuckled, "It should be. It used to be one of yours."

"The design gave it away." Dax said teasingly, "Whatís it being used for now?"

"Planetary surveys, anthropological studies, that sort of thing." Macen replied easily.

"What are you doing out here?" Dax asked curiously, "I didnít think anybody was interested in anything this side of the wormhole."

"Most arenít." Macen admitted, "In fact, weíll be headed to the Gamma Quadrant after completing a survey near Havelock."

"Whoíd want to go there?" Bashir asked.

"Tellarite mining consortium." Macen lied, "Theyíre looking for a new source of latinum."

"Good luck then." Dax said with a wry tone, "Thatís not a nice neighbourhood."

"Its a little better now, with the treaty." Macen replied, cringing inside, "At least thereís hardly any shooting."

"Like here." Dax said with a rueful shrug, "I guess we can get on our way."

"Yeah, we need to get back to it ourselves. Safe travels, Lieutenant."

"Same to you."

The viewer deactivated as Macen turned to TíKir, "Set course for Havelock, Warp 6."

Macen and Danan stepped into the Briefing Room. Rett Killa was at the Science station this watch. TíKir had the bridge. Her Vulcan physiology gave her greater endurance than most races. Macen envied her that at the moment, he was beginning to feel the last few days. Theyíd been going for nearly seventy hours now.

"So, who was she?" Macen asked as Danan sank into a chair.

Lisea glanced up at Brin as he folded his arms across his chest and sat on his desk. She sighed, "I donít know her well, but Thora knew Curzon Dax."

"So?"

"She knew him intimately."

"Is this a problem?"

"No." Lisea said wearily, "It was just a surprise."

"We probably have a slough of those waiting for us in Maquis space." Macen said ruefully.

Lisea smiled at that. A year ago, the area now referred to as the Cardassian DMZ. Now, according to the navigational charts Section 31 had stored aboard the Odyssey, it was being labelled as Maquis space. It was a sign of the Maquis growing success, and of the Cardassiansí growing instability. The Cardassians still outnumbered and outgunned the Maquis, but now was a pivotal time. They could make a serious impact now...as long as they did not incur more Starfleet interference. Facing one foe was bad enough.

"What do you think is going to happen?" Lisea asked.

"I think that we are now going to go get some rest before we collapse from exhaustion."

"I meant about the situation with Trist." She clarified irritably

"So did I." Macen explained.

 

Chapter 10

"This is the extent of your report, Constable?" Sisko asked in obvious irritation and disappointment.

"Yes, Commander." Odo answered in his usual, brusque tone, "My man tracked Macen and Danan to the Saki village. They stayed there for several days, and then left."

"Left how?"

"They were apparently transported off-world." Odo replied, "There were several freighters in the area at the time suspected of Maquis sympathies."

Siskoís brow furrowed further, "What about the village?"

"The Provisional Government dispatched several Militia units. They discovered simulators and other various equipment of Federation manufacture."

"Simulators?" Sisko asked in surprise, "What were they training for?"

"Operating starships." Odo answered ominously.

"So, do we have any idea of what occurred here?" The man known only as Sloane asked. No one aboard the Cheyenne-class ship knew his full name, nor did they want to. Knowing things about Sloane was a fatal proposition. The less one knew, the safer they were.

Sloane leaned back in the command chair of the ship with his legs crossed. The ship was the U.S.S. Sage. She was still listed as in active service with Starfleet. In truth, this sister ship to the ill-fated U.S.S Sutherland had never seen conventional fleet service. Sheíd been immediately transferred to Intelligence and then fallen into Section 31ís nebulous grasp.

"Well?" Sloane asked again, mounting irritation evident in his voice.

"The sensor logs have been tampered with, sir." One of the youngest agents assigned to this mission reported. Her name was Hannah Díart, and Sloane expected great things from her.

"Somehow, they not only detected our sensor net, they manipulated its readings and logs."

"What was the traffic like in the neighbouring systems prior to the tampering?"

They knew there had been tampering. Six dead agents and a runabout destroyed by an intermix overload on the planet. The base there half destroyed by photon torpedoes. Several small ships, and one cruiser, missing...and not a single thing on the sensor logs. No, there was little doubt as to whether or not someone had manipulated the supposed safeguards "protecting" this location.

"Weíve also detected debris form an explosion." Díart reported, "And subspace distortions indicating several short transmissions. There is also evidence of phaser blasts and additional torpedo launches other than the attacks on the planet."

"Can we retrieve the transmissions?"

"There appears to be too much distortion from the multiple warp fields that exited this space. We have recovered enough to determine the nature of the encryptions they were using."

"And what would that nature be?" Sloane asked with predatory interest.

"Maquis." She answered flatly.

Sloane smiled inwardly. The treaty of 2367 had always rankled the members of Section 31. It reeked too much of capitulation. The Cardassians in particular represented a race that one never displayed weakness before.

Many in Section 31 wished the Maquis success. Some had even proposed discreet assistance. With mounting tensions with the newly discovered Dominion, between the Cardassians and the Klingons, and the ever present Romulan threat, even Section 31 was stretched tot he limit of its resources. Sloane was pleased that the Maquis had found a way to obtain their own form of assistance. It showed an intelligence, tenacity, and initiative that Sloane had feared they lacked. In his opinion, their odds of success had just grown substantially.

He could let the scouts and science vessels go. They would bolster the Maquisí rag-tag fleet, but they were of no political importance. The Fortitude, on the other hand, had to be recovered. Although a single cruiser couldnít win the war by itself, its presence might convince the Cardassians that the Federation had adopted a policy of overt support towards the Maquis in violation of treaty. As much as Sloane loathed the treaty, he was sworn to protect it, for now at least.

"Signal Section Command." Sloane ordered, "Inform them that we need more personnel in order to move the larger vessels and engineers to prepare scuttling charges for those we canít transport elsewhere."

Sloaneís next communiquť would be directed towards the highest echelons of Starfleet Command.

The TíLera inserted itself into orbit over Athos IV. It had been a gruelling flight for Ro and her pilot, a human named Laura Hicks. There was no sign of Trist or the Fortitude. Ro took that as a good sign. She beamed down to the labyrinthine underground base.

Athos was a departure from most Maquis bases in that it relied almost exclusively upon replicators for food and water. It had become a mantra among the Maquis colonists to grow their own food. What had begun as one part symbolism of being tied to the ground and one part desperation had become a philosophy with surprisingly savoury results.

Ro found it ironic that three years ago, when the Federation had betrayed the settlers, most had resisted the idea of the Maquis. Now almost every settler was a Maquis. The colonies attracted more immigrants now than they had before the treaty. The Federation had slit its own wrist when it handed away a few hundred thousand of its citizens to a hostile, xenophobic race. Only a few border worlds, like Havelock, retained an entirely civilian population. They had been spared the malevolence other worlds had endured and saw no reason to actively take up arms.

As she glanced about the normally bustling tunnels and saw no one about, she wondered where everybody was. The silence made the caves foreboding. Ro could feel a crawling sensation on the back of her neck. It was a familiar feeling, and one that had saved her life more times than she could count. It was her "trouble" sensor.

Ro marched straight for the Committee chambers. She had to pass through the Communications hub to get there. The facility was nearly deserted. Her jaw clenched as she fought to suppress a murderous rage.

"Captain Ro." A familiar, dry voice broke the silence, "Once again, your presence is unexpected."

Ro turned on her heel to face Trevik. Her clenched fists hung at her sides as she spoke. "I wouldnít expect my arrival to be such a surprise this time."

Trevik rose a single eyebrow, "Indeed. This is most unfortunate."

"Where is everyone?" Ro asked brusquely.

"Rendezvousing with the Fortitude." Trevik answered calmly. He noted the tremble of rage that passed through Roís thin frame, "Does this surprise you as well?"

"Disappoint would be more accurate." Ro answered sourly.

"Would it be accurate to surmise that you see Captain Tristís acquisition of the Fortitude as both unwise and provocative?"

Ro smiled thinly, "Good guess."

Trevik shook his head. Ro could swear he appeared sad, despite any protest he would undoubtedly make to the contrary. "No. I simply invoked logic. Logic dictates that employing such a powerful ship will anger both the Federation and the Cardassian Union."

"Is angering the Cardassians bad?" Ro asked in surprise.

"No, it is not." Trevik answered with that eerie calm she loathed, "Our objective is to make the retention of Maquis systems too costly and unpleasant to be perceived as worthwhile. Inciting a battle with a cruiser will ignite nationalistic fervour that will negate what gains we have made. Part of the Maquisí strength is our seeming insignificance"

"I never thought so." Ro snorted.

"That is because you think like a Bajoran, not a Cardassian." Trevik replied, "The Cardassians crave recognition and glory. Fighting a smaller, less equipped force for years on end brings no glory. It only brings discontent and boredom. Employing a heavy cruiser changes the Cardassian paradigm and makes combating the Maquis more attractive."

"Iím not sure I would agree with your analysis of the Cardassian psyche." Ro commented.

"Of course not." Trevik replied with the subtlest trace of humour in his voice, "That would belittle the Bajoran sense of accomplishment derived from driving a seemingly implacable foe from their world. In truth, the Cardassians left because it no longer appeared worthwhile to stay."

Ro glowered at him, "Are you saying the Resistance was futile?"

Trevik seemed amused by this statement, "Not at all. It contributed largely to the Cardassian paradigm. But, it did so by nipping at the heels of the Cardassians. Never so large as to require an army to deal with it, never small enough to be forgotten. A constant balance between pain and pride. The Cardassians left because they wearied of combating foe that would not, and could not, join them in the orgy of destruction they craved in order to insure that their visages would be carved into the greater memory of the Alpha Quadrant."

Ro silently weighed his words. They rang with truth. It was far less glorious than what she would like to consider her cultural legacy, but it rang true. Her respect for Vulcan logic grudgingly notched its way upward.

"I think you have a point." She admitted.

"Of course." Trevik replied.

Her cocked to one side and she gave him a wry look. Trevikís voice had contained no smugness, but it didnít need to. Ro had a longstanding irritation with so-called perfect races. The unflappable Vulcan logic, Bolian enthusiasm and optimism, and Betazoid omniscience all annoyed Ro incessantly. Her opinions regarding Metrons, Organians, and the Q would never have made publishing standards in a Starfleet report.

"So, if this is true, why is most of the Committee meeting Trist?"

"They are fulfilling their own truths and their own paradigms, Captain." Trevik answered, "As must we all."

Ro frowned as she reached for her communicator.

Dax smiled as she entered Siskoís office, "Hello, Benjamin." She saw his grim expression and stopped in mid-stride, "Problems?"

Sisko shrugged, "You could say that, Old Man."

"Whatís going on?" she said as she came around his desk.

"While you and the Doctor have been enjoying the conference on Rigel V, weíve been dealing with a trade conference, in-fighting between members of the Provisional Government, arresting an entire village for aiding the Maquis, and trying to track down two Starfleet Intelligence officers that may, or may not be collaborating with the Maquis."

"The usual then." Dax replied with a smirk, hands clasped behind her back.

Sisko chuckled, "Precisely. So tell me, Old Man, how was your trip?"

"Fairly routine until the end." Dax replied, "We were attacked by Orion pirates."

"What?" Sisko asked with alarm.

"Itís all right, Ben." Dax assured him, "Weíre still alive." She held out her hands to either side of her, "See? Still alive."

"Yes, I see." Sisko relented, "Howíd you escape?"

"A Good Samaritan swooped in and chased the bad guys off." Dax said with a smile, "A Good Samaritan with an old Blackbird-class scoutship."

"Really?" Siskoís eyebrows rose, "You donít see many of those in private service. Most of them were given to various Starfleet Protectorates to augment their forces."

"Really?" Dax replied, "Iíve never knew much about what happened to decommissioned Starfleet ships."

She glanced at the padds littering his desk, "Whatíre these?"

"The service files of the two officers weíre looking for."

Daxís face turned ashen. Sisko followed her gaze and discovered that she was staring at the padds. His eyes returned to her. She reached for the padds.

"I know him." she said quietly.

"From where?"

"Heís the captain of the ship that aided Julian and I."

 

Chapter 11

Macen was sitting at his desk in the Briefing Room when the door chimed. He called out for the supplicant to enter. His reply activated the doorís automatic entry system. TíKir swept into the room with her usual schizophrenic blend of poise and agitation.

"Can I help you with something?" he asked.

She handed him a padd, "This came in over subspace. I thought you might like to read it."

He gave her a curious look, then accepted the padd and began to peruse its contents. His expression grew dour as he assimilated the data. He glanced back up towards TíKir. Her expression was one of wry amusement.

"Poetic justice, eh?" she asked.

"It figures." Macen replied bleakly, "Of all the places for Trist to head for, he has to be headed for Havelock."

"This time weíll get him." TíKir vowed angrily.

Macen gave her a disappointed look, "Itís not about revenge."

"Really?" TíKir asked scornfully, "Then what is it about?"

"Balance." Macen answered cryptically.

"Balance?" TíKir repeated, "What the hell does that mean?"

"Anyone ever tell you that youíre not an average Vulcan?"

"All the time." She replied proudly, "Youíve seen the average Vulcan. Whoíd want to spend their life like that?"

"Most Vulcans, Iíd presume." Macen replied with an acerbic barb.

"Let Ďem." TíKir huffed, "Iíll pass on that."

"Is there anything else?" Macen asked.

"What?"

"Is there anything else you needed to discuss with me?"

"Not exactly." TíKir wavered.

"Dismissed." Macen said brusquely.

"But, I..."

"Dismissed, as in Ďleave now and go awayí." Macen explained.

"Got it." TíKir replied and left.

Macen watched the doors close behind her and then activated the comm panel. He had some people he needed to talk to. This business with Trist had to stop and it had to stop now. The Andorianís craving for glory could very well precipitate the demise of the Maquis.

Dax and Odo entered Siskoís office to find the Commander in a somewhat jovial mood.

"Whatís the good news?" Dax asked.

"Starfleet Intelligence has just replied to my inquiries." Sisko explained, "It seems Commanders Macen and Dananís mission was a high level infiltration of the Maquis. They are authorised to utilise the widest possible discretion in facilitating their goal of penetrating the Maquis Command structure."

"I thought the Maquis did not have a formal Command structure." Odo commented.

"They donít." Sisko replied, "Apparently part of the mission is an effort to change that."

"Thatís a lot of Ďapparentliesí Benjamin." Dax quipped, "Wouldnít a consolidated Command structure make the Maquis forces more effective?"

"Yes. But in the eyes of Intelligence, it would also make the Maquis far easier to track and infiltrate if they had a more centralised structure."

"They have a point." Odo conceded, "Instead of spreading agents halfway across Maquis space in attempts to track troop movements, they could place one agent in a sensitive post and track the entire fleet."

"Precisely." Sisko confirmed.

"So weíre just going to let them go?" Dax asked in frustration.

"Not exactly."

"I love it when youíre this precise and informative." Dax said sarcastically.

"Now you know how I felt speaking with Admiral Nechayev." Sisko consoled.

"The Tsarina of Intelligence herself." Odo muttered inn approval. The nickname was derived from a longstanding rumour claiming that Nechayev was descended from the Russian Imperial Dynasty begun in the latter half of the 21st century.

"Yes." Sisko growled, "A more obtuse individual would be difficult to find."

"What did she say?" Dax asked impatiently, "What are we going to do about Macen?"

"We are going to do nothing." Sisko answered. He put up a hand to ward off Daxís protestations, "Starfleet, however, is assigning a ship to try and contact Macen."

"A ship operating under the auspices of Starfleet Intelligence, no doubt." Odo grumbled darkly.

"No doubt." Sisko agreed with equally ill humour.

"You what?" Macen asked incredulously.

"I set course to meet with Trist." Calvin Hudsonís image answered.

"Why?" Macen asked with a pained expression.

"Do you comprehend the opportunity that the Fortitude represents?" the former Starfleet captain asked.

"Of course." Macen replied, "The question is do you?"

"Yes!" Hudson declared excitedly, "A chance to strike a decisive blow against the Cardassians."

"No." Macen countered wearily, "It represents a very real possibility of destroying any chance of success the Maquis have."

Hudsonís eyes narrowed warily, "Comments like that might make one question your loyalties, Brin."

"Cal, I served alongside you during the border wars. Did you ever have reason to question my loyalty or courage then?"

"No." Hudson answered slowly.

"You donít have one here either." Macen declared flatly, "My loyalty is to my people. That means my crew in particular and the Maquis in general."

"What about Starfleet?"

Macen gave Hudson a wan smile, "I feel about the same as you do. I wonít attack Starfleet, but I canít abide the Federationís abandoning its citizens. Not when I can do something about it."

"Amen." Hudson agreed solemnly, "But tell me why you think Tristís ship will bring disaster."

Macen rubbed his chin as he weighed Calvinís mood, "The plain fact of it is that the ship might make the Cardassians recognise us for the threat we really are."

"Good."

Macen shook his head in disappointment, "No, thatís not good. One of our greatest assets is that our enemy underestimates us. Throwing a starship into the mix may convince the Cardassians that weíre worth an entire fleet and that thereís glory to be had on combat against us."

"Good." Hudson said with grim satisfaction, "Let them come."

"Damn it, Cal!" Macen snapped, "Stop thinking with your gonads and listen. If the Cardassians are ever convinced that we represent a chance at glory for them, theyíll come at us with everything they have. Our best option is to make life so uncomfortable for them they canít wait to leave Maquis space."

"You sound like Trevik." Hudson replied sourly, "He didnít see the value of this ship either. Imagine it, Brin. With this ship, we can finally launch a full scale offensive."

"With what?" Macen asked scornfully, "With a century old starship and a handful of cobbled together scouts and raiders? Thatís not an assault Cal, thatís suicide."

"You are a coward." Hudson proclaimed in a sorrowful sigh.

"No, Iím not." Macen replied without emotion, "Iím an Intel analyst. And Iím telling you, in my professional opinion, that such an attack would be futile."

"I donít agree." Hudson replied with an angry edge to his voice, "As long as you feel that way about it, I donít see where we have anything else to discuss."

"Donít let your hate blind you to the truth, Cal." Macen urged.

Hudsonís smile resembled a rictus, "I donít." The screen went blank. Macen grieved for the man heíd once called comrade. He feared they would soon be opponents.

Commander Tessa Eyries swore violently as she deactivated her console. Sheíd just received orders from Starfleet Command to proceed to the Cardassian border and go looking for two Intelligence operatives that had gone missing. Not only had they gone missing, but they also seemed to have gone missing with a decommissioned Starfleet scoutship. That seemed typical for Starfleetís Intelligence Division, particularly where the Maquis were involved. Now the U.S.S. Jove was off to resolve that particular situation.

Her venerable ship was a Constellation-class. She was designed for deep-space exploration, not playing secret agent games. Eyries grimaced as she thought about her orders. Intelligence should clean up their own damnable messes rather than enlisting Fleet personnel that had no knowledge of the situation as well as no interest.

She patted her comm badge and asked her first, Lt. Commander Carver to step into her Ready Room. Carver responded immediately. As he entered, she noted again the sheer presence the man had. He seemed to vibrate with raw energy.

She knew part of his focused efforts stemmed from an enduring shame he felt over being an ancestor of Admiral Cartwright. For a traditional Starfleet family, that kind of black sheep wasnít forgotten. It was a motivator to strive for greater and greater fitness reports until even the history books had forgotten Cartwrightís complicity in the conspiracy to derail the peace process with the Klingon Empire.

She found both his boundless energy and large framed physique as objects of envy. Tessa had been born on Yalta II, a colony world near the Romulan Neutral Zone. It was a low-grav world and had never had the resources to install gravitic plating on a planetary scale until recently. Consequently, citizens such as Eyries that left later on had to spend a gruelling year adjusting to the 1g standard on Earth in preparation for service aboard a starship.

Although Eyries would never admit it to the crew, even after fifteen years in the service she still occasionally employed a gravity harness in the privacy of her own quarters. She didnít dare alter the gravity setting in her quarters for fear of alerting Engineering as to her activities. She suspected that they knew anyway, but let her retain some shred of dignity. It made her appreciate the crew even more.

"You wanted to see me, Captain?" Carver asked quietly. The softness of his voice belied the first impression he conveyed. It was like facing an Orion that spoke like an Andorian. It was rather unnerving.

"We have new orders." Eyries told him without betraying her feelings on the matter. She handed him a padd with the details, "The contents of the orders are there."

He perused them quickly. He glanced up with a sceptical eyebrow raised, "Please tell me theyíre joking."

"Theyíre not." Eyries sighed."

"Weíre returning from a three month tour of the Gamma Quadrant." Carver protested, "The last six weeks of which we spent dodging Dominion patrols. Before that, we spent three years on a survey of uncharted systems towards the Core. Weíre in no shape to go chasing after a potential renegade."

"We especially donít have the capability to go chasing after a potential Maquis sympathiser across the DMZ or to survive a run-in with the Cardassians." He added emphatically.

Eyries smiled indulgently, "I have told them this, of course."

"Dammit, Tess." Carver said with unusual vehemence, "What the hell is Command thinking?"

Eyries shook her head, "I have no idea, Wayne. I just hope that these two want to be found."

"And if they donít?"

"Then I pray I can convince Command to send another ship out here."

Danan, TíKir, Scott, and Desrin joined Macen in the Briefing Room. Macen was as grim as theyíd ever seen him. Normally, even in the worst circumstances, Macen maintained a sardonic humour. Now even that was gone.

After listening to what heíd had to report, everyone wore similar expressions. Everyone save TíKir. She wore an amused grin that unsettled the others. Danan merely gave her a pained glance. Desrin was far more annoyed.

"Damn you, TíKir." He hissed, "Weíre talking about the potential destruction of the Maquis and all you can do is sit there and grin like an idiot?"

TíKir broke into a fit of giggles, "What would you prefer?"

"Iíd like you to recognise the severity of whatís occurring here!" Desrin snapped.

"Oh, I do." She chortled, "We either let Trist provide the Cardassians with an excuse to launch a full scale war against us, a war we canít win, or we try and stop ourselves. The problem with stopping him ourselves is that itíll split the Maquis and be tantamount to a civil war."

She gazed at Desrin with an ironic grin, "Weíre damned no matter what we do, so why bother?"

"You bitch." Desrin snarled and started out of his seat.

"Sit down." Macen commanded. The total lack of emotion in his voice was far more frightening than any amount of rage could ever be. This was the voice of a man that had decided on a course of action and would tolerate no obstacles in the pursuit of his goal.

"Iíve been in contact with several Maquis leaders." Macen informed them, "Trist enjoys little overall support. The support he does enjoy is comprised mostly of Committee members and leaders like Calvin Hudson."

The others shook their heads at that. These were some of the heroes of the Maquis. These were the people that had founded the movement in 2367 after the treatyís signing. These were the people that had rallied a ragtag resistance and began transforming it into a real force.

"This wonít be easy." Macen admitted, the barest trace of regret tinting the rigidity of his voice, "And if you donít agree with stopping them, now is the time to be heard."

Macen met each eye levelly. Scott was unsure, but willing to trust his captainís judgement. Desrin looked as though someone had gutted him, but he voiced no protests. TíKir wore her mania like a shroud. Macen was beginning to believe she really didnít care one way or the other what happened next.

Danan was the crucial element. Lisea sat there quietly, having drawn herself inward. Her eyes were as dark as her thoughts. Finally, she nodded.

"We need to stop Trist." She said with quiet, but fierce determination, "We canít allow him to bring the Maquis to ruin."

"Itís settled then." Macen announced, "Inform your sections. Anyone with qualms can be dropped off on the nearest Maquis world before we engage Trist. Dismissed."

Everyone but Danan filtered out. Lisea sat watching him. He could see the pain in her eyes. She bore it well and would not allow it to cloud her judgement.

"You realise this will play right into Starfleetís hands."

Brin sighed, "I know."

"Then why not look for an alternative?"

"I think theyíre right about where the Maquis need to go."

She gave him an apprehensive look, "Why?"

"Because we really do need a centralised command structure if weíre going to win." Brin answered, "Trist is a symptom of the disease of giving each captain and cell leader total control over his units."

"But the Committee..." she protested feebly, knowing the lie behind her own words.

"Is useless." Brin finished candidly, "Itís symbolic, but serves little real purpose. Any commander can override any decision the Committee makes."

Lisea ignored the derision in his voice. She knew that part of his scorn stemmed form his own cultural background. Brin had told her about El-Aurian society and how they had tried to build upon principles similar to those of the Federation. Theyíd also learned the limits of those principles when the Borg arrived.

She knew Brin was a born dissident. He was happiest when rallying against stagnant presuppositions and institutions. He also supported the concept of a strong central authority with the power to reign in radicals. It was a mix of principles that seemed mutually exclusive, yet served to balance each other out.

She understood that sort of dialectic synthesis. Trills craved individuality of experience, yet lived with the paradox that their entire culture negated true individuality. Joined Trills were an amalgamation between their symbiots, the memories of previous hosts, and themselves. Unjoined Trills lived in a world shared by humanoids and vermiforms, with the vermiforms receiving greater rights and prestige than they.

As much as she wished it were not true, she knew that the Individual freedoms the Maquis sought could best be won by a disciplined, united front free of the divisions it now possessed. Internal squabbling and the Maquisí infernal habit of pursuing contrary goals were limiting the movementís effectiveness. There was no greater sign of this than Tristís quest for glory being virtually unstoppable by any means other than direct confrontation. It was more than a personal weakness of the rogue Andorian, it was also a disease that needed to be excised from the Maquis.

"I agree." She conceded with a rueful sigh.

"Iíve already put the idea of a central command and of establishing civilian leadership before everyone Iíve talked to." Macen informed her.

"What sort of response did you get?" she asked.

"Now that this has occurred?" Brin asked dryly, "Iíve received very favourable responses. This seems to have woken up many people."

"Better late than never, I suppose." Lisea muttered.

"The trick of the whole thing is trying to stop Trist before I can cause any damage."

"Do you think heíll still be at Havelock when we arrive?"

"I have no idea." Brin admitted in disgust.

"Weíll go looking for him if heís not, wonít we?"

Brin nodded, as Lisea asked another more disturbing question, "Even if we find him, what if we canít defeat that ship of his."

"The Fortitude itself isnít the problem." Brin admitted, "Its the fact that sheíll have help."

"And if we doní have enough help ourselves?"

"Then we look for it in places we havenít already tried." He answered evenly.

Liseaís eyes widened a bit. He hadnít mentioned this unexpected source of help because he didnít need to. She knew how he thought, words werenít necessary in this instance. They would appeal to Starfleet.

 

Chapter 12

"Is the fleet ready?" Trist asked Calvin Hudson via the shipís main viewer.

"Awaiting your departure." Hudson replied. Although Hudson was nominally in command of the fleet, Trist truly held that authority since none of the vessels would depart without his authorisation. The sense of power Trist felt was overwhelming. It flooded his very being.

"Very well." Trist replied with satisfaction, "Patch me into all ships."

His Communications officer nodded, indicating he was a fleet-wide channel, "All ships, this is Trist. Prepare to get underway on my command."

"The fleet acknowledges, sir. Awaiting your signal."

"All ships, make your speed Warp factor 6." Trist paused for dramatic effect, "Engage."

The TíLera dropped out of warp over Havelock. Her sensors swept subspace for signs of warp signatures. They stood out against the background of normal space. What they detected made Roís blood freeze.

"Captain," Carverís voice was unsteady as he approached the centre seat, "Starfleet monitoring posts near Havelock have detected several ships massing." His features grew hard, "One the ships responded to sensors with a Fleet IFF code marking her as the U.S.S. Fortitude."

Eryesí eyes became horrified orbs, "You must be joking. Is there any possibility the sensors read the transponder incorrectly?"

Carver shook his head, "No, maíam. Sensors were able to get a solid read on her. She matches the records on file."

"It has to be the Maquis." Eryes nearly whispered.

"That makes sense." Carver agreed.

"But how could they get their hands on a Starfleet vessel?"

"The Fortitude is a New Constitution-class. She was probably in a mothball yard somewhere and was sold on the black market."

"Thatís still a frightening thought." Eryes commented, "Does she retain her original specifications?"

Carver knew that the real question was whether or not she still possessed her offensive capabilities, "Yes. All indications point that way."

"Damn." There was little else to say.

"Captain," Carver began gravely as he handed her a padd, "the ships have departed from Havelock. Take a look at their destination."

She accepted the padd reluctantly. She dreaded what the contents would reveal. After perusing the co-ordinates, she knew she should have trusted her instincts and ignored the padd. The revelation was worse than sheíd feared.

"I suppose the Cardassian have already got wind of this?"

"Probably." Carver answered ruefully, "After all, it is their territory now."

Something in his voice caught her attention. She raised her eyebrows, "You donít approve of that situation?"

Carver gave her an enigmatic smile, "I accept the realities of the situation. I may, or may not approve of the way those realities came to be."

Eryes smiled at his elusive answer. Internal Affairs had dedicated a great deal of time asking that same question, and then reassigning those that answered in the affirmative to the other side of the Quadrant. It was a throwback to a kind of paranoia that both Starfleet and the Federation had supposedly outgrown. It also added weight to the Maquis assertions that the ceding of their territory had had political motivations other than the prevention of bloodshed.

"My god." She said quietly, "If the Cardassians encounter this ship..."

"Then the treaty may be a moot point." Carver finished for her, "The Cardassians may decide that Starfleet has thrown its lot in with the Maquis and decide to resume hostilities."

Eryes leaned back in her chair as the full weight of the situation fell upon her. She was an explorer, dammit, not a galactic saviour. Why the hell did this have to drop into her lap? She needed advice, and she needed it now!

"You have the bridge." She informed Carver, "Iím going to be in my Ready Room."

"Doing what?" he asked with a teasing sting.

"Calling home for advice." She replied, "God knows we could use some right now."

The Odyssey was approaching the Havelock system. Scott was taking a turn at command. Both Macen and Danan had stood double watches and needed rest. Both groaned in irritation as the comm chimed.

"Captain," Scottís voice came over, "you may want to come to the bridge."

"Be right there." Macen replied disappointedly.

"Iím coming too." Danan informed him, "Iíll never get to sleep now."

"The more the merrier." Macen replied getting out of bed.

"I certainly donít feel merry." Danan mumbled.

They arrived on the bridge minutes later. Rett was at the Science Station and Hereford had Tactical. Scott slid out of the Command station and relieved Hereford. Danan did the same for Rett. Both looked disappointed to be missing whatever action was about to occur.

TíKir had remained at the Helm after the last watch. The Delta shiftís helmsman had proven better at simulators than at actual piloting. He was now filling in at his secondary post in Engineering. Macen suspected TíKir was pleased by this development since it allowed her more time in control of the ship.

"Status?" Macen asked as he sat down and began to look over his consoleís displays.

"Thereís a Starfleet vessel dead ahead." Scott answered, "IFF marks her as the U.S.S. Jove."

"Great." Macen muttered as he leaned forward, "As if life wasnít complicated enough already."

"Captain, I realise how difficult this sounds, but it is necessary." Nechayev assured her.

"I donít see how..." Eryes began, but couldnít find the words to finish.

"I know it may seem unorthodox, but it is..."

"Necessary." Eryes bit her off, "I heard it the first time."

"Careful, Captain." Nechayev warned, "I do have the authority to have you brought up on charges of insubordination."

"Iím fully aware of that, Admiral." Eryes assured her, "I just donít see how these methods could have been approved by Starfleet Command."

"They were not only approved by Command, but by the President himself."

"Captain," Carverís voice came over the roomís system, "there is a vessel approaching."

"Have you tried hailing her?"

"She hailed us, maíam." Carver replied, "Her captain claims to be Brin Macen."

Nechayev grinned like the proverbial cat, "It seems you wonít have to go looking for Commander Macen after all."

The Odyssey came to rest one light minute away from the Jove. The two ships hung in space facing one another. The Jove was literally twice the size of the Odyssey. Except for size, there was no true advantage granted to either ship since they sprang from the same era.

The Jove was essentially a saucer section with four warp nacelles behind it. This gave the larger ship greater speed than the scout. It also cut down on manoeuvrability. The Jove possessed one more aft torpedo tube than the Odyssey, but that was its only addition in armament.

The Starfleet vessel did have four times the crew capacity of the Maquis vessel. That weighed heavily into Scottís alarm when Macen announced his decision of accepting Eyriesí offer of discussion aboard her ship. Macen listened politely to Scottís reasoning before ignoring it. He and Danan added insult to Scottís concerns by beaming over unarmed.

Eyries and Carver stood waiting before the Transporter controls as Macen and Danan materialised. Both Starfleet officerís eyes widened at the uniforms their counterparts wore, it was nearly identical to the utility uniform being issued to officers and base personnel. The only visible differences being the green shoulders and that neither wore a jumpsuit version, preferring the jacket styling.

Eyries unconsciously tugged at her black-shouldered red uniform blouse. She glanced over at Carver and saw him performing an identical manoeuvre. She suppressed the smile that would have normally resulted from such a scene. Instead she kept her features carefully neutral.

"Permission to come aboard, Captain?" Macen asked in the time-honoured tradition between commanders.

"Permission granted." Eyries replied with the expected formal reply. The reply was born out of training and tradition, not a desire to extend courtesy. Her cheeks coloured slightly as she realised that sheís just informally recognised Macenís authority as a fellow Captain. That meant she also recognised the legality of his position and decisions under interstellar law.

The colour in her cheeks intensified as the full implications of her words sank in. Macen smiled in wry amusement as he watched the interplay of embarrassment and discipline across her features. Her First was much better at masking his feelings.

"Relax, Captain, you havenít given away the war." Macen assured her dryly, "Weíre on the same side."

"Are we?" Eyries asked sceptically.

Macenís eyebrow rose as he digested her doubts, "Commander Brin Macen reporting, Captain."

His words and his tone both formally placed him under her command. That negated any legal traps her earlier faux pas had created. She broke into a wide smile of relief as he said these words. Carver remained carefully neutral.

Macen glanced towards Danan, the warning in his eyes for hers alone. She spoke for the first time since their arrival, "Lt. Commander Lisea Danan reporting as well."

"Well, Commanders, I am very pleased to met you." Eyries said, gushing her relief.

Yeah, Macen thought bitterly, now that weíve started to convince you weíre still operating undercover for Starfleet. I wonder how youíll feel after the truth comes to light?

"If youíll accompany Commander Carver and myself to our Briefing Room, Iím sure we have a lot to discuss."

Iím beginning to think you may suspect how much indeed. Macen thought wryly.

Upon reaching the Briefing Room, the four officers sat down across form each other. Danan sat next to Macen, Carver next to Eyries. Macen noted that the Starfleet officers were studying he and Danan closely. That was to be expected, after all, they were doing the same to the Starfleet personnel.

Macen noted that Eyries was very inexperienced in dealing with sensitive matters. That wasnít a difficult observation to make. It was also part of the hierarchy of Command. Typically, those below the rank of Captain were not assigned to missions as delicate as this without an Intelligence officer to oversee or assume the mission. That was an indication of how quickly Nechayev had moved to try and make contact, which in turn indicated that Section 31 had already discovered their losses.

It wouldnít have taken Nechayev long to figure out who among the Maquis had the ability and the access to information regarding the elusive Section 31. A mere handful even within the Intelligence community suspected the existence of the shadowy secret police agency. Even Nechayev was unsure of its existence, and she was the Director of Intelligence. She was in a hurry to discover both Macenís true loyalties and what he knew regarding the existence of Section 31.

The fact that she went outside of normal channels indicated she either was unsure of the security of her own department or that she suspected that Macen would find an unexpected ally aboard. Both possibilities existed and had an equal chance of likelihood. Macen had to play this close to his vest and see what happened. Dananís body language subtly informed him that she recognised the situation and would follow his lead.

Eyriesí eyes tightened as she broke the uneasy silence, "Commander, you can imagine my surprise at being ordered divert here while on my way to Earth for the first time in five years. Add to that, the amazement I experienced at discovering that while here, Iím to traipse up and down the border while broadcasting a coded subspace signal in the hopes of getting your attention." She gave Macen an exasperated stare, "All of this in the hopes that you would grace us with the rather dubious honour of contacting Admiral Nechayev herself utilising our comm system."

"And youíd like to know why." Macen added for her.

"Itís rather obvious that this is some kind of infiltration into the Maquis." Eyries continued, "But what Iím really curious about is why all of this is so important that my crew had to get dragged into it."

She fixed Macen with a laser stare, "Iíd also like to know if you know anything about a Constitution-class starship flying around on the wrong side of the border?"

"Iíd like to know if youíre cleared to hear the answer." Macen replied evenly.

Fire flashed in Eyriesí eyes, but she stifled it quickly, "I suppose not."

Macen shrugged, "Then thereís not a lot I can discuss with you."

Eyries and Carver both shuffled in their seats as anger and frustration mounted. That suited Macen. He wanted them to merely see him as a stereotypically smug Intelligence agent holding his greater access to secrets over their head. The less they saw him, and saw their own preconceptions, the better his overall position would be.

Eyries stood abruptly and Carver followed suit, "Then I suppose we should let you contact the Admiral."

"That would probably be for the best." Macen agreed.

After Carver and Eyries stepped out of the Briefing Room, Danan let out a tightly held breath, "I thought youíd lost your mind."

"Thatís not entirely out of the realm of possibility." He informed her with a twinkle in his eye, "After all, I am in love with you. Dealing with a woman with eight lifetimes can be rather mindbending."

"No more so that dealing with a four hundred year old juvenile that has decided to embark on a private crusade to save the Maquis." She retorted.

"Touchť." He turned to the comm panel and keyed in his personal code. The code would not only grant him an encrypted cipher, it would also block any attempts from the Bridge to monitor the channel. No record would be left in the comm logs either.

The comm viewer mounted in the wall activated. Nechayevís piercing blue eyes almost literally leapt out of her skull as they gazed upon Macen and Danan. Her sharp features appeared unchanged form the last time either Macen or Danan had seen them. Her blonde hair was pulled into its typically severe bun.

"Good to see you again, Commander." Nechayev said dryly, "And you as well, Lt. Commander."

"We didnít know you missed us, or we would have called sooner." Macen said flippantly.

"Cut the crap, Macen." Nechayev warned, "Iím not in the mood."

"You never are." Macen retorted, "You need to learn to relax."

"I think youíve become a little too relaxed, Commander." Nechayev replied with a scowl, "You are working for me, if you recall?"

"How could I forget?"

"Are you certain that you havenít?"

Macen sighed, "Youíll be happy to know that events are unfolding that will either consolidate the Maquis into a unified command, or destroy the movement altogether."

"I take it this has something to do with the Fortitude cavorting about in Cardassian space?"

"Yes," Macen admitted sourly, "it does. A single Maquis commander seized control of a mothballed starship. Heís convinced a number of Maquis to aid him in an offensive against the Cardassians."

"Theyíre going for more than a mere Ďoffensiveí, Brin." Nechayev snapped, "Theyíre headed for Rontel VII."

Macen heard Dananís gasp. Rontel was a major outpost. It housed the Cardassiansí Border Fleet. It was also home to nearly to million soldiers and civilians.

"If they get there, itíll be a disaster." Macen said slowly.

"I see your gift for understatement has survived." Nechayev observed sarcastically, "But youíre right. This would be a disaster for both the Federation and the Maquis."

Dananís eyes narrowed, "I didnít know you cared about the Maquis."

Nechayev eyed her coldly, "I donít on the way that you two do. I see them as an asset to keep the Cardassians off-balance."

"What did you mean Ďin the way we doí?" Macen asked warily.

Nechayev snorted, "Come on, Brin. I read your reports, at least the ones youíve bothered to make. You are obviously sympathetic to their cause. You do every thing you can to present the Maquis in a favourable light."

"Then why havenít you pulled us off the assignment?" Danan asked sharply.

"Because it serves Intelligenceís purposes to leave you there." Nechayev answered. Upon seeing their uncomprehending expressions, she continued.

"Look, I see the Maquis as a potential asset. They have a range of mobility and options Starfleet doesnít have. Your reports generate enough support to prevent the Council from authorising the Fleet to actively assist the Cardassian sin hunting the Maquis down."

"The Cardassians would never go for that." Macen replied cynically.

"Wouldnít go for it?" Nechayev sneered, "Hell, theyíre the ones that proposed it."

"And the Council was going to approve it?" Macen asked angrily.

"Certain members thought it might be prudent." Nechayev clarified, "The Federation had never faced an issue as divisive as the Maquis."

"Thatís because most people know the Maquis are right." Macen declared hotly, "Theyíre just too cowardly to face the Cardassians."

Nechayev stared at him silence for several minutes. Dananís mouth was hanging open. She knew that Macen had wanted to formally declare their sympathies, but she would have picked a better place to do it than on a starship full of eager Security officers. She snapped her jaw shut in frustration.

One of these days that manís impulsivityy is going to get us killed! She thought angrily.

"Iím going to forget I heard that." Nechayev said very slowly, "The best way you can help the Maquis is be continuing to send reports. Having a noted officer endorse their campaign will make more allies than throwing away your career."

"I wonít betray them." Macen growled.

"Iím not asking you to Brin." Nechayev assured him, "Nor will I ever. Iím asking you to do what you think is best."

Macen remained silent for several minutes. The muscles in his jaw could be seen flexing as he wrestled with his anger and rage. Dana did not envy him this decision. She was spared it because she had been assigned under his command. It also gave her greater leeway to speak now.

"What we need to focus on is stopping the Fortitude." She declared, breaking the tense silence.

"Yes, you do." Nechayev replied.

"We may not have the manpower." Macen said through gritted teeth.

"Then I suggest you pull off a miracle boyo." Nechayev replied harshly, "and I suggest you get started. That ship has a helluva lead on you."

"Care to offer any assistance?" Macen asked dryly.

"Would Captain Kirk or Captain Sulu ask for help?"

"They would if they had time and any amount of sense." Macen replied bitterly.

"You donít. I suggest you make do."

"Get a back-up plan ready then." Macen told her, "These people arenít Starfleetís best and brightest. I donít know what theyíre capable of."

"And you expect them to win a war?"

"I know they can win a war." Macen replied confidently, "Its just that pulling off the impossible isnít their stock in trade."

"Iíll do what I can." Nechayev assured him, "You just do the same."

Macen shrugged, "Who knows? We may even pull off the impossible."

 


Proceed to Part III of III

 

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